Turacos fit many of the criteria I look for when I’m searching for an animal to write about. They have a funny name, they are quite beautiful and interesting looking, and they are neat animals. So let’s learn about turacos!

Turacos are members of the family Musophagidae, and may be in an order of their own, though this is still disputed. There are about 18 species of turaco, separated into eight genera. They are found in sub-Saharan Africa, and like to hang around in forests, woodlands, and savanna. They are not great fliers, but are excellent climbers and move well on the ground.

A great blue turaco, the largest species of turaco. Image from Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Turacos can grow to be reasonably large, ranging in length from 40-75 cm. These birds have a very flexible fourth toe, which can either be held at the back or the front of the foot. While some turacos are plainly coloured, with grey and white feathers, others are much more colourful. Brightly coloured turacos are mainly blue, purple or green. Almost all species have some form of ornamentation, from fancy crests to long, beautiful tails.

The pigment that makes green turacos green is called turacoverdin. This is the only true green pigment currently known in birds. Other birds that appear green simply have yellow pigments in their feathers, combined with fancy feathers that scatter light, making them appear blue. Another pigment, turacin, makes the turacos’ feathers red. In all other birds, red colour is caused by carotenoids (the pigment responsible for making carrots orange). So turacos are special, because they’re not cool enough to have refracting feathers, and they are cool enough to have a different red pigment from the rest of the bird world.

A green turaco, showing off his turacoverdin-coloured feathers. Image by Ian Wilson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The name Musophagidae means ‘banana eater’, and true to that name, turacos like to eat bananas. They are also quite fond of grapes and papayas. Other foods turacos have been known to eat include leaves, flowers, and various invertebrates, such as slugs and insects. Turacos are so in love with bananas that if you feed them enough, they will become tame, and will take bananas right out of your hand.

Turacos live in flocks, usually of up to ten birds. They are known to be noisy, but the loudest of the family are the go-away-birds. These birds make very loud alarm calls, which serve to warn any animal in the vicinity that a predator a approaches. The birds get their common name from this call, as the screech sounds like ‘go-way’.

Turacos really are pretty (if somewhat funny looking) birds. I suggest you go look up pictures of different turaco species, because they are all beautiful, and I can’t include all of them here.

Cover image by Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons